Toronto Ont.— Small field, big performance.
For the third time in four years Toronto FC are off to the Eastern Conference finals after a 2-1 victory over New York City FC at Citi Field. Alejandro Pozuelo’s last-minute panenka penalty delivered the incredible victory for TFC.
Here are five thoughts on how the Reds secured what Michael Bradley called a “big boy win”.
Pozuelo officially has NYCFC’s number
Last minute of the game, penalty, the same team Pozuelo had missed against in a 1-1 draw late in the regular season. When he stepped up, Johnson again dove to the same side Pozuelo had put both of his penalties last time. Instead, Pozuelo calmly chipped the ball down the middle giving Toronto FC the victory — something he said he had decided to do prior to the match if the opportunity presented itself.
Pozuelo now has five goals and one assist against New York City FC. Needless to say he has their number, invoking memories of another number 10 in red who used to be pretty good against NYCFC.
Playing as a false nine with Jozy Altidore once again not in the 18, Pozuelo was excellent. His creativity and quality in the final third was the difference in a game where Toronto FC sometimes lacked a finished product.
Midfield movement and work the difference for Toronto FC
This was a thoroughly deserved victory for Toronto FC and it started with their dominance in the middle of the park. On the small pitch, the club moved the ball quickly from side to side with short, decisive, passes and flicks.
I’ve been really impressed with Toronto FC’s ability to play in tight spaces so far, but #NYCFC haven’t been themselves.
— Michael Singh (@MichaelSingh94) October 24, 2019
Then, when Toronto FC lost the ball, they quickly regrouped and put the pressure on New York City’s defenders and midfielders. For almost the entire first half, New York were unable to cleanly play they ball out to the box which ruined several counter-attacks and often resulted in Toronto quickly regaining possession.
Richie Laryea makes a massive impact once again
Credit to Greg Vanney: not only was he able to come up with a system that has led to Toronto FC’s success in these playoffs without some key pieces, he has been able to tweak it when needed.
After his substitutions proved crucial to the extra time victory against DC United, it was once again a man off the bench who made a critical play tonight. In fact, it was the same man. After scoring the winner against D.C., Richie Laryea won the decisive penalty tonight.
With the season on the line, Laryea’s play has only become better. He has been confident and direct and his decisions in the final third — questionable at times this year — have been excellent.
Gerry Angus-USA TODAY Sports
The bye might be the flaw in current playoff system
So far, so great for MLS’ new playoff system. While the sample size is small, the games have been incredibly exciting with plenty of goals and teams trying to play on the front foot.
However, one of the benefits for the system was supposed to be a greater value placed on finishing higher in the standings. New York City FC earned a bye for finishing first in the conference but looked incredibly rusty through the first half of the game.
In a two-legged ties, teams with byes had a little more time to ease into the series and opened on the road where they were not expected to control the game in the same way. Instead, tonight it was the battle hardened Toronto FC who looked significantly more up for this game.
Holding leads still an issue for Toronto FC
There was one negative to this match, it came in that twenty minute stretch midway through the second half when Toronto FC allowed NYCFC to tie the game and then pour on the pressure.
The club have given away far too many leads in recent months, and have already done so twice in these playoffs. They’ve been able to get back on the front foot both times, but surely it is a fate that they do not want to tempt going forward.